Fellow Americans, you may be wondering what dessert we, citizens of a republic, should eat to mark the arrival of a royal baby overseas. Can our history be of any help as we ponder this important question? As luck has it, the very people who “dissolve[d] the political bands which [had] connected them” to a monarchy celebrated a royal birth. The Revolutionary generation can be our guides.
The royal bundle of joy, Louis-Joseph, heir to the French throne, had been born in October 1781, during the American Revolutionary War. In its struggle to win independence from Great Britain, the United States had no closer ally than Britain’s great rival, France. By 1782, however, the war was over and the United States and Britain were in peace talks. A party in honor of Louis-Joseph’s birth, thought the French minister to the United States, would strengthen Americans’ bonds with the French.
The celebration was held in Philadelphia in July 1782. 1100 guests were invited: Many ladies had to have their hair done between four and six in the morning. When evening came, the streets clanged with carriages “rattling” to the party. One guest, Dr. Benjamin Rush, described a scene of lights throughout the garden, a splendid room, a band, and hundreds of people in beautiful attire.
Dr. Rush enjoyed himself, but he had signed the Declaration of Independence, asserting that “all men were created equal,” and a party in honor of a royal baby hardly said that! So good republican that Rush was, he found some meaning in the festivities that would affirm Revolutionary ideals. The American guests, who were predominantly Protestants and had long been hostile to Catholics, “rejoice[d]” at the birth of the little Catholic prince, Rush told a friend. Love of liberty, he explained, trumped old prejudices.
All well and good, you’re thinking, but what about the dessert? Dr. Rush didn’t let us down. The “simple, frugal, and elegant” dinner was followed by “cakes and all the fruits of the season.” So cake and seasonal fruit it is to welcome the arrival of Britain’s future king.